Is Your Car Smart Enough? - 5/19/2007

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Usually when one thinks of going on tour, a band of musicians or perhaps even teams of skateboarders comes to mind. But have you ever heard of a car going on tour? On May 19, 2007, that is exactly what Smart USA did with their car model “ForTwo.” The promotional tour started in Los Angeles, California and made its way cross-country, showing itself off from coast to coast in the United States. The microcar was scheduled to be released in the U.S. in 2008.

Nicholas Hayek, the mastermind of the colorful watches known as “Swatch”, had a brilliant idea in the early 1990s. He approached the German automaker Mercedes-Benz with his bright idea, to make an “ultra-urban” car. The two joined forces and their outcome was Smart, which is an acronym for Swatch Mercedes ART, and their first model was the ForTwo. The car then debuted in the Frankfurt Motor Show in 1997 and went accessible to consumers in nine European countries over the course of the next year. Initially the ForTwo was marketed as a fuel-efficient, safe car that could maneuver with ease through crowded urban streets. And measuring in at eight feet from bumper-to-bumper, it would make parking a lot easier as well. Despite its initial projected success, Smart posted substantial losses and Swatch pulled out of the partnership.

These losses left Mercedes maker DaimlerChrysler, now known as Daimler AG, unfazed. In 2004, DaimlerChrysler launched the Smart ForTwo in Canada. Later in 2006, Dieter Zetsche, DaimlerChrysler chairman, announced the Smart would come to the United States in 2008. As reported by the German newspaper Handelsblatt, between 2003 and 2006, DaimlerChrysler took a hard loss of close to 3.9 billion euros (approximately $5.2 billion) on the Smart brand. The hope was, that the United States would bring Smart the abundance they were looking for. And thus, began the cross-country road show. 

The tour gave consumers in 50 cities nationwide, the opportunity to test-drive the ForTwo model. The tour included a large truck that served as a mobile exhibit dedicated to the car. The large truck was also complete with virtual demonstrations and interactive displays. “The Smart ForTwo is all about urban independence and freeing people from the constraints of city driving,” as said by the president of Smart USA, Dave Schembri. The Smart car was aimed to drive 40 plus miles per gallon, and by the end of the show it was presumed a success. By September 2007, Smart USA had received more than 30,000 registrations from potential buyers. In January 2008, the ForTwo was made available to consumers in the United States, the prices ranged from approximately $12,000 to $21,000.

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